The Washington Redskins (2-2) are back in action on Sunday when the Carolina Panthers (3-1) come to town in a pivotal early-season matchup for the Redskins. Washington, coming off a Week 4 bye, traveled to New Orleans on Monday night and were manhandled by the Saints, 43-19, in a game that was never close.
Quarterback Alex Smith was dreadful, missing open receivers all night and appeared hesitant in the pocket after getting hit early in the game. Washington rushed for just 39 yards on Monday night as Adrian Peterson finished with just six yards on four attempts.
The Panthers are coming off perhaps the most thrilling finish to a game in thus far in the 2018 regular season. As the New York Giants scored a late touchdown to take a 31-30 lead on the Panthers, quarterback Cam Newton led Carolina down the field for a desperation field-goal attempt by kicker Graham Gano. A former Redskin, Gano connected from 63 yards out as time expired to give Carolina a massive win to keep pace in the ultra-competitive NFC.
Washington, which has two impressive wins sandwiched by two ugly losses, really needs this game. The Redskins can ill-afford to fall to 2-3 on the young season by losing another game against a fellow playoff hopeful. A loss would also be Washington’s second home loss of the season.
After 15 days off, head coach Jay Gruden’s team didn’t look prepared in the ugly loss to New Orleans. After suffering a few injuries, Gruden didn’t have a full practice on Wednesday, instead opting for a walkthrough.
As if things couldn’t get worse for the Redskins, Pro Bowl linebacker Thomas Davis returns for Carolina this weekend after a four-game suspension. Pro Bowl tight end Greg Olsen is also set to return from a foot injury. Davis brings speed and playmaking to the defense, while Olsen gives Newton his favorite target back. Speedy wide receiver Curtis Samuel made his season debut last week and caught a touchdown pass.
This could be bad news for the Redskins. Washington’s secondary struggled badly against New Orleans. A big issue was miscommunication on the back end. Josh Norman, a former Carolina Panther, was benched for one series after giving up a long touchdown for the second straight game. The Redskins need Norman to turn his season around. Playing his former team will certainly have the emotional Norman on edge, but he must control himself this week.
The Redskins are 0-4 all-time against Newton. And he’s posted some big numbers against Washington. In Carolina’s 2015 win over the Redskins, Newton passed for a career-high five touchdowns. Carolina has won the past five meetings between the two teams, while Washington holds a 7-6 edge in the all-time series.
If we go by how Washington rebounds from a loss under Gruden, the Redskins will be impressive on Sunday afternoon and come away with an important victory. However, there are just too many things going against them to believe they can defeat a good Carolina team.
The returns of Olsen and Davis will give the Panthers a boost on both sides of the ball, while Washington is battling some injuries at receiver. Norman will give up another big play and will cost his team even more by committing at least two crucial penalties.
Final Score: Carolina 27, Washington 17